Skin care routine : the definitive guide

Coming from a Latin background, I grew up watching my mom and grandmother doing their beauty routines every morning before heading out and every night before bed.

For my mom, there was no chance she would go to sleep with makeup on, she is who showed me the basics of a skincare routine so I was lucky to start at an early age.

The goal of this article is that you are able to understand the very basics of how to take care of your skin, which products to choose, and the right order to apply them.

What is a skincare routine?

To know where and how to start creating a skincare routine, you must understand first what it means. 

A skincare routine is known as a certain number of steps that include cleansing, hydrating, treating, and protecting.

The purpose is to improve skin appearance, prevent signs of aging, prevent certain skin issues, and protect the skin by using the right products such as exfoliants, peelings, masks, cleansers, moisturizers, antioxidants/serums, as well as others depending on your skin type and condition.

The goal of this article is that you are able to understand the very basics of how to take care of your skin, which products to choose, and the right order to apply them. 

To get all the professional insights and tips for you, I spoke to top dermatologists Elizabeth Bahar Houshmand, John Kamran Nia, and skincare expert, Coco Pai.

When to start having a skincare routine and/or regimen?

Dermatologist Elizabeth Bahar Houshmand says it is never too early to start having an appropriate skincare routine that includes a skin cleanser depending on your skin type (acne-prone, oily, dry, and sensitive). 

Esthetician Coco Pai

Coco Pai

Coco suggests puberty should be a good time to start taking care of your skin. “When your body starts introducing new hormones, this is when it becomes important. Especially because this is the age when acne begins with many teens.”

She also suggests starting photo-protection (SPF) both for anti-aging and for skin cancer prevention at an early age to avoid sunburns.

5 things you should know to start taking care of your skin

The idea of choosing a new product for your skin can be overwhelming before we even get to the store. 

Branding and marketing make it seem that every product works perfectly for our skin but how can we truly know where to start and which products are the right ones for us? How can we build a skincare routine that fits our needs without feeling overwhelmed? 

Well, I have the answers for you. Coco gave me great tips on how you can start taking care of your skin and I have listed them for you.

1 – Understand your skin first 

Look for characteristics in your skin, identify if you have dry, oily, combination, and/or sensitive skin. The key to selecting the right products is to understand what type of skin you have and what are your main concerns to treat and take good care of it. Once you acknowledge this, most of your concerns can be prevented and managed.

If you want to learn more about skin types check out — What is my skin type and how to take care of it.

2 – Don’t get overwhelmed or follow social media trends and marketing. 

Keep in mind that what might work for your friends might not work for you. There are many products out there that won’t even benefit your skin at all. Focus on what you are looking for, ask yourself the question: What does my skin really need? What do I want to treat/prevent/improve?

3 – Start by evaluating your budget

Set a budget and build your skincare routine the best you can from there. Coco told me: “If you stop getting your coffee out once a day, or cut something small out of your regular spending habits, you can easily afford better skincare.” and I think she is totally right.

If you can, have an Esthetician or Dermatologist help you build a regimen with the right products. Set a budget and work with that to start.

4 – Remember it takes time

One single step or product won’t do all the work for you. Coco explains that skin is like any diet, you can’t just eat one thing and expect to be healthy. It needs to be balanced between proteins, vegetables, carbs, etc.

Same with your skincare routine. Skincare products have a particular functionality and a reason why each of them is important. Don’t expect to see miracles if you are not being consistent and you are not using the products your skin needs.

5 – Don’t overdo steps when is not necessary.  

Know the basics and see what you need to add. The most important products for both day and night are a cleanser, toner, serum/treatment, eye cream, moisturizer, and SPF for daytime. “I do think it is important to not overdo it with too many steps and also not changing your products all the time.”

Now you know that you need to understand your skin first, answer your own questions by asking a professional, making a budget and a list. Make your selection to start a basic skincare routine, be patient, and build from there. Remember that you can always ask a dermatologist or an esthetician for suggestions on what you need to add in case you have a specific skin concern.

10 skincare products you need to create your skin care routine

  • Cleanser
  • Exfoliator
  • Toner
  • Serum (Hyaluronic Acid, Retinol, Vitamin B, C, Peptides, etc)
  • Eye Cream
  • Treatment
  • Chemical Peel / Treatments
  • Face Masks
  • Moisturizer
  • Sunscreen (SPF)

The best order to apply skin care products according to dermatologists

According to dermatologists Elizabeth Bahar, and Dr. Nia, no matter what skin type you have, it is important you start by applying products in the right order.  This will help you achieve the best results from your skincare regimen. An easy rule of thumb to follow is to apply your products from thinnest to thickest inconsistency.

Dermatologist Elizabeth Bahar mentioned that the skin’s job is to function as a barrier and keep things out, but many of the skincare products we use have ingredients we want to get in and only a very small amount of these ingredients can actually penetrate into the skin. 

Dermatologist Elizabeth Bahar

Elizabeth Bahar Houshmand

Dermatologist Elizabeth Bahar mentioned that the skin’s job is to function as a barrier and keep things out, but many of the skincare products we use have ingredients we want to get in and only a very small amount of these ingredients can actually penetrate into the skin. 

You want to start by applying the products that have ingredients that treat your skin, these will be mostly serums and antioxidants. Then you can apply thicker products that will sit on your skin, will keep moisture locked in, and will protect you throughout the day like moisturizers and SPF. 

💡The order on how you apply your products is key to start seeing the full benefits.

Best Skincare routine Step by Step (Day and Night)

Dermatologists Elizabeth Bahar and Dr. Nia shared the right order and tips for a day and night routine.

Day time steps for your Skincare routine

Day-morning routine is all about protection from the sun, and pollution.

STEP 1 – Cleanser 

Start by washing your face with water. Elizabeth Bahar recommends using a gentle face cleanser if you have oily or acne-prone skin.

STEP 2 – Serum

Serums are concentrated, nutrient-dense treatments that address specific concerns, so it’s better to keep them as close to the skin as possible. They recommend using antioxidant serums like a good vitamin C. Dermatologist John Kamran recommends ISDIN Flavo-C Ultraglucan Vitamin C serum.

STEP 3 – Eye cream

It’s about maintaining the health and thickness of the eyelid skin. Improving the skin quality in this area early on ensures that the eyelid skin does not easily lose elasticity.

STEP 4 – Moisturizer

Everyone needs a moisturizer, even if you have oily skin. The best time to apply a moisturizer is while the skin is still damp for hydration.


Sunscreen should be the last step in your daytime skincare routine if you’re using a physical or mineral sunscreen, which works by physically blocking the UV rays. Elizabeth recommends a physical sunscreen with zinc and to apply it after your moisturizer. Zinc is safe, effective, and provides the broadest protection against UVA and UVB rays.

Night time Steps for your SkinCare Regimen

As your skin naturally repairs itself at night, Dermatologist Elizabeth shared that you should give your skin what it needs during this time. Your nighttime routine should be all about treatment.

STEP 1 – Double Cleansing (Cleansing and Toning)

To get rid of the day’s grime, dirt, oil, and makeup.The first step is to take off your makeup. I, as Elizabeth Bahar, like and use micellar water for this step.

The second step is to use a face wash to remove all the excess sebum, dirt, and makeup you loosened up on the first step. This leaves your skin fresh and perfectly prepped to absorb your skin regimen.

STEP 2 – Eye cream

Aside from addressing crow’s feet and dark circles, eye creams can also serve to protect your delicate eye area from your other skincare products.

STEP 3Treatment (Retinol, Peelings, Anti Aging Serums) 

Pick your evening treatment based on what your skin needs that night. Here are some recommendations from dermatologists Elizabeth Bahar and John Kamran.

  • Choose between prescription meds (for acne or rosacea) OR exfoliative treatments (like AHA/BHA pads, peels or detoxifying masks). Don’t use both on the same night.
  • Just like prescription meds, don’t use retinol creams (over the counter and prescription) on the same night as exfoliative treatments.
  • Exfoliative treatments: Use these sparingly, one to three times a week.
  • Detoxifying/Clay Masks: For most people, once a week.

💡Coco also recommends doing a light exfoliation and mask twice a week during your nighttime routine. It’s always good to do a mask that works with your skin type. It is recommended that you apply it right after exfoliating for the best penetration.

STEP 4 – Moisturizer

Some people use the same moisturizer day and night. However, night moisturizers or night creams are generally thicker and heavier and designed to be absorbed over the course of several hours. 

Moisturizers, especially the heavier ones used at night, create a protective coating on the skin to prevent water evaporation while you sleep. 

Best Skincare routine for men : Step by Step

It is common that men prefer to simplify and they might go for a multi-purpose product that can do it all instead of following a number of steps. The truth is that whether you are a beginner or not, a skincare regimen can be as basic or as advanced as you desire.

Dr Nia Dermatologist

Dr. John K. Nia

Dermatologist Dr. Nia recommends that men follow a simple yet efficient skincare routine day and night.

For Daytime he recommends cleansing, moisturizing, and adding a good SPF. While for the night you would only need to cleanse and moisturize.

For men dealing with acne, looking to improve their skin, dermatologist John Kamran also recommends trying a low dose of Isotretinoin. The Side effects are very minimal and the benefits are great. It prevents skin cancer, has anti-aging purposes, and will clear out the skin completely.

Now, if you are a man looking for a much more “advanced” skincare regimen, then continue reading. Here are some products you should know about and you could add to your day and/or night routine.

1 – Cleanse

Use a Facial Cleanser with salicylic acid to gently control oil. Use a toner if you struggle with acne, this will clean up your pores and balance the oiliness on your skin.

2 – Treat

  • Option 1 : Look for a gentle chemical exfoliator to remove dead skin cells like an AHA (alpha hydroxy acid).
  • Option 2 : Serums are your skin boosters. These are more intense than your regular moisturizers and their function is to treat your skin with specific ingredients that will penetrate on your skin to get long term benefits. You can use one that works for different purposes. 
  • Option 3 : Retinol is the key to fight aging. 

3 – Moisturize

Use a day and night moisturizer and eye cream for hydration. 

4 – Protect

Apply SPF during the day right after your moisturizer. 

Skin care routine by skin type

Being in control of your skin means you have to be in control of your diet , stress, and daily skin routine. These will all bring you benefits. If you don’t properly take care of your skin, you become prone to early aging, acne, and other skin conditions.

Here are the steps and recommendations to follow depending on your skin type:

Sensitive Skin Care Routine

When creating a skincare routine for sensitive skin, you must consider picking the right products with the right ingredients. Sensitive skin is highly reactive to many ingredients, especially active ingredients. 

Here are some calming and soothing ingredients for sensitive skin:

  • Chamomile & Green Tea Extract
  • Cucumber
  • Shea Butter
  • Calendula Extract
  • Aloe Vera

Dermatologist Elizabeth Bahar mentioned it is important to determine if your skin is really sensitive or just irritated. Many patients who think they have sensitive skin could actually be overusing products. It’s critical for you to see a board-certified dermatologist to determine this.

1 – Cleanse 

Use a gentle face wash, an oil, or a milky cleanser to remove dirt, and makeup. Make sure it is lightweight and noncomedogenic to prevent it from clogging your pores. Do not rinse with hot water. 

Tip: If you have sensitive + oily skin, try an alcohol-free toner to remove the excess oil. 

2 – Treat 

Use gel masks during night time before moisturizer and lactic acid or hyaluronic acid serums during day time to lock in moisture.

3 – Under eye cream 

4 – Moisturize 

When trying to pick a moisturizer for sensitive skin, go for a scent-free moisturizer. If you have dry and sensitive skin, try a much denser cream with a heavier texture. This will only apply to someone with no acne-prone skin.  

5 – Protect 

Use zinc oxide sunscreen during the day.

Products and ingredients to avoid

There are a few beauty products and ingredients you should avoid if you have sensitive skin:

Perfumes and Fragrance 

The scent is the first thing to avoid if you have sensitive skin. There’s a difference between “fragrance-free” and “unscented. 

Fragrance-free usually means that no extra fragrances were added to the product. This does not necessarily mean that the product does not have a scent, but that the scent occurs naturally due to the ingredients. 

Unscented usually means that an ingredient was added to mask the scent of the ingredients in the product that contains a strong odor. Unfortunately, those with sensitive skin may be sensitive to that ingredient. 

Artificial Coloring / Hair Dyes: 

Paraphenylenediamine (PPD) is a common ingredient found in permanent hair dyes that can cause an allergic reaction. The result is a rash at the hairline, nape of the neck, and around the ears.


Ingredients like sodium Laureth sulfate and sodium laurel sulfate can strip the hair and skin of their natural oils. These are cleansing agents that create a rich, foaming lather but can prove too harsh for some, drying out skin and hair and contributing to rashes and blemishes.

Skincare expert Coco also shared some recommendations to take care of sensitive skin:

  • Avoid products with harsh chemicals.
  • Use gentle face cleansers, body cleansers, and lotions.
  • Take lukewarm showers, heat activates sensitivity.
  • Wash your face at night, not day, and night. This is especially important for people with eczema and rosacea that are having a flare-up. 

Oily Skin Care routine

Oily skin tends to have larger pores, produces more sebum, and looks shiny throughout the day. It is prone to acne and the appearance of blackheads.

1 – Cleanser 

Use a non-comedogenic and oil-free gel or foam cleanser.

2 – Use a Toner 

Choosing an alcohol-free toner will be your best option. Apply this with a cotton pad to remove dirt and help cleanse your pores. 

3 – Treat 

Look for ingredients like salicylic acid, sulfur, benzoyl peroxide, tea tree oil, or arnica. There are great ingredients to look for in serums and spot treatments. You can also use chemical exfoliants twice a week to remove dead skin and debris. 

For daytime, you might want to add an antioxidant like vitamin C to your routine. Vitamin C has multiple benefits like removing blemishes, imperfections, and balance overall skin PH, also helping to reduce signs of aging. 

4 – Under Eye Cream 

Even though this area isn’t really affected whether you have oily skin or not, make sure you use an eye cream to protect and hydrate this area. 

5 – Face Moisturizer 

Use a light non-comedogenic and oil-free moisturizer during the day and night. Water-based moisturizers are a great option for oily skin. 

6 – Protect

Use zinc oxide sunscreen during the day.

Extra Care for Oily Skin

Because your skin produces more oil than usual, your pores might need an extra to cleanse. Here are some options you could add to your skincare routine.

  • Exfoliate: Chemical exfoliators are a great option to cleanse your skin and balance sebum production. They will also help minimize large pores and the appearance of blackheads. If you are going for chemical exfoliator, look into products with beta hydroxy acid. You can use any of these types of exfoliators once a week after cleansing your skin and before playing any serum and/or moisturizer. 
  • Face Mask: Clay masks will help purify your pores and detoxify your skin. You can apply either masks once a week after cleansing your skin and before any serum and/or moisturizer.

Dry Skin Care Routine

Dry skin can vary from just a little to an extremely high lack of sebum, and because of this, dry skin also tends to have less elasticity and be more prone to signs of premature aging.

In order to take care of dry skin, you must know certain characteristics to make sure this is your skin condition and not only a phase you are going through because of external situations like weather or diet.

Dry Skin Characteristics: It feels tight and could be flaky in some cases, skin looks dull, especially on the cheeks and around the eyes. When skin is very dry it can also feel rough, it’s prone to rashes, sensitivities, and irritations.

Read more about skin types if you want to learn more about how to take care of dry flaky skin.

1 – Cleanse

Use a no foam, super light cleansing lotion, or oil to remove dirt and product. Avoid rinsing your products with hot water. 

2 – Toner 

Avoid astringents and alcohol-laden formulas. Opt for a hydrating toner that balances your skin. 

3 – Serums 

Look for antioxidants in the form of serum-like vitamin A, C, and/or E. They are great to treat your skin, help boost hydration, collagen production, and protect it from pollution throughout the day. Use retinol for nighttime. 

4 – Under Eye Cream 

Look for one with peptides to boost your collagen production

5 – Moisturize

Choose rich hydrating creams over water-based. 

6 – Protect 

Look for a moisturizer with SPF for daytime. 

Combination SkinCare Routine

Combination skin, as its name defines, consists of having an oily T-zone and much drier cheeks. Some people get confused by having oiliness in certain spots and use skincare products that, instead of helping, tend to damage their skin. 

It is very important that you understand more about your skin and its characteristics in order to select the right products for your skincare routine and see results.

1 – Cleanse 

Select a gel or foam cleanser.

2 – Tone 

Choose a balancing and alcohol-free toner or micellar water.

3 – Treat 

For night time apply retinol and/or AHA or BHA to reduces the appearance of large pores, acne, blackheads, and smooth out skin texture and blemishes. For daytime, you can choose an antioxidant like vitamin C to help your skin texture and protect it during the day.

4 – Under Eye Cream

5 – Moisturizer 

Use a lightweight non-comedogenic moisturizer.

6 – Protect 

Use a zinc oxide sunscreen at the end of your daytime skin routine.

Skincare Routine for anti-aging

When it comes to prevent or treat signs of aging, the first thing I would like to mention is to not wait until you start seeing signs of aging to treat your skin, for it might be too late to use products and expect miracles. 

As dermatologists suggest, it is never too early to use anti-aging products and ingredients that will give you benefits in the long run. 

💡Some of the benefits of using anti-aging products are plumping your skin, diminish blemishes, pores, and reducing wrinkles

Ingredients and products to prevent aging

Here are some ingredients and products to prevent or reduce signs of aging:

Retinoids, AHA, BHA, Vitamin C, Peptides, Niacinamide, Coenzyme Q 10, and Tea Extracts. If you want to learn more about these products and which are the best anti-aging creams that you can add into your day and/or night routine check out — Best Anti-Aging Creams

Skincare routine by age

Skincare routine if you are in your 20’s 

3 basic steps to start a skin care regimen at an early age:

To start, you don’t need a complicated regimen. When you’re in your 20s, it is a good time to start thinking about preventative aging products. But this all depends on your genetics, sun exposure, and how much you take care of your skin.

Starting with these 3 steps will do the job:

  1. Cleansing aka wash your face
  2. Moisturizing aka hydrating your skin (day and night)
  3. Sun Protection aka Sunscreen (day time)

Skincare routine if you are in your 30’s

  1. Use a cleanser
  2. Apply a toner
  3. Hydrate your face and under eye area
  4. Wear sunscreen
  5. Use retinoid before your moisturizer during your night time routine.

Skincare routine if you are in your 40’s – 50’s

  1.  Use a cleanser
  2. Use a serum/antioxidant for daytime
  3. Hydrate your face and under eye area
  4. Wear sunscreen
  5. Use retinoid before your moisturizer during your night time routine.

The 10 Korean Skincare Steps

Koreans are the masters of layering the right skincare products in order to really let each product absorb and work its magic. There are 3 important things to consider while doing these steps. 

The overall goal is to cleanse, nourish and protect your skin by layering 10 different products in a very easy and practical way without spending a crazy amount of hours.

Double Cleanse

  • Step 1 Oil Base MakeUp Remover
  • Step 2 Water Base Cleanser
  • Step 3 Exfoliator
  • Step 4 Toner


  • Step 5 Essence
  • Step 6 Treatments: Serums/Boosters/Ampoules
  • Step 7 Sheet Mask
  • Step 8 Eye Cream


  • Step 9 Moisturizer
  • Step 10 SPF

💡If you want to learn more check our Korean Skincare routine tutorial!

Clean skin care routine by Coco Pai

Coco is based in San Francisco, where she has her own Spa (Coco Spa). She is also the founder of Cozi Skincare, a skincare brand with no harmful chemicals, no parabens and created all with natural ingredients. 

She strongly believes that proper skincare is not just about looking good, being beautiful, or having a type of luxury. “Skincare is also about your overall health. Taking care of your skin helps you feel more confident, when you take care of yourself, you learn to love yourself more, she says”. 

Coco is also about to finish her book on skincare that will be available for everyone. “I want everyone to have access to good skincare knowledge. I will be sharing all about products, ingredients, regimens, foods that is good for your skin”, Coco mentioned.

Here are the steps that Coco recommends:

1 – Use a Botanical MakeUp Remover

My personal skincare routine starts with the CoZi makeup remover, which is botanical.

2 – Use Vitamin A Cleanser

I use the Vitamin A cleanser, which has pumpkin extract that gently exfoliates daily. I don’t do cleanser in the morning because I have dry/sensitive skin, but sometimes I will do my t-zone if I feel I need to.

3 – Use Vitamin C when Toning

I use the Vitamin C toner, which has organic cucumber extract and rose hip extract for hydration and balancing the pH.

4 – Use a Plant-Based Serum

I use the anti-aging serum which has plant-based apple and gardenia stem cells, and GotuKola antioxidants.

Tip: For night time, twice a week sleep with a collagen cream or mask on and exfoliate with the CoZi Enzyme peel.

5 – Eye Cream

I use the CoZi eye cream.

6 – Bluberry cream as Moisturizer 

I finish with our Blueberry cream moisturizer. Our Blueberry cream is one of my favorites because it has blueberry, green tea, and grape seed extracts. It also has hyaluronic acid which does wonders for hydrating the skin.

7 – SPF

I use La Roche Posay Anthelios Ultra and Atzen sunscreen.

Where to buy skin care products?

Here are the 15 best stores to shop for skincare products :

  1. Materiae – One of the best online stores with a carefully curated selection of the top beauty brands with an impeccable story behind, amazing ingredients and beautiful branding.
  2. Follain – Online store with restricted beauty and personal care products without toxins and environmental safe.
  3. Urban Outfitters – From indie to best selling beauty products for skin, makeup and hair.
  4. Beauty Pie – A members only online store where you will find luxury products with no brand in particular, which makes the prices really affordable for anyone.
  5. Soko Glam — Best selection of Korean beauty products.
  6. Space NK — Here you will find only high-end, curated selection of skin care, makeup and hair products.
  7. Amazon – Everything from beauty accessories, tools, skincare, makeup and hair products in all different price ranges.
  8. Sephora – The pioneer of all the beauty stores. Here you will find the trendiest beauty products.
  9. The Detox Market – Brands with natural ingredients and a place where you can learn more about green beauty, wellness and different beauty techniques.
  10. Credo – A plant-based and natural ingredients beauty products highly curated.
  11. Ulta – Limitless assortment of the trendiest beauty brands and products.
  12. Bluemercury – A place where you will find everything from top skincare, makeup, hair brands and products with a plus of having experts in store to help you select what is best for your skin. They also have brow styling and facials available.
  13. Dermstore – Founded by a dermatologist, this is an online store where you will find not only the right products for you but also understand and learn more about your skin condition.
  14. Target – A variety of beauty tools, accessories, makeup, hair and skincare all with affordable prices.
  15. Birchbox – MakeUp, hair, skincare products and grooming all available for you. The difference between this and other stores is that you can make your own selection as your beauty box and receive it in a monthly basis.

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